1 June, 2008
One common theme in online games is that it’s hard to balanced ranged attacks vs. up-close (usually melee) attacks. In general, one or the other seems to be much more potent.
So, this week, let’s talk about how to balance these two types of attacks.
In many games, ranged attacks have an advantage over other attacks: in certain cases, the player can avoid taking damage while still doing damage. In some games, the infamous “pathing problems” create a situation where a player can attack an NPC, but it cannot find a way to attack the player back. Rarely can a melee-type character do the same.
Let’s look at a few games and see how these different types of attacks work.
World of Warcraft
This game is interesting in that a few classes have very limited ways of doing ranged attacks. Druids, Paladins, and Shamans, for example, can’t equip ranged weapons at all. Shamans have plenty of ranged spells, Paladins eventually got a Captain America…er, Avenger Shield… ability, and Druids can cast ranged spells in caster form (not helpful for Ferals, though). One class was entirely focused on ranged damage, the Hunter, and this class has consistently been one of the easiest to play solo; it also has the double-bonus of being a pet class, which is often very powerful.
It’s interesting to note that at one time Hunters had a “dead zone”: an area where a target was too close for ranged attacks, but too far away for melee attacks. This was a keystone for many tactics for dealing with hunters in PvP, but the zone was removed in a patch.
Ranged attacks are also very powerful in raid situations, too. WoW’s mechanics allow ranged damage dealers to have a higher threat threshold before they grab aggro compared to melee characters. In encounters were bosses run around, or multiple targets need to be taken down, the ranged characters can often do superior damage over time compared to melee characters that have to run around in order to get close enough to attack targets.
Overall, there is some give and take with ranged vs. melee damage, but ranged tends to have more advantages in general.
Age of Conan
This game also has some classes that are more focused on ranged and others on close damage. The main character I’ve chosen, a Bear Shaman, has relatively few options for ranged attacks; this seemed to be a conscious design decision according some interviews of developers online. The class seems hard to play initially, but most people agree it gets easier around level 20. I found this to be true, and I think it’s mostly because of the ability to use bows at level 20. While the class can use thrown weapons, the longer distance and better damage allowed me to soften opponents up significantly. It also allowed me more options in pulling wandering monsters without having to tread too closely to others. It’s also interesting to note that one of the bonus items you can claim is a high quality bow, much better than the other weapons available at that level.
However, melee characters in AoC have “combos” they can do which do enhanced damage. This allows a character to perform special moves which have special effects. One powerful Bear Shaman ability reduces the defense of an opponent and does tremendous damage. Will these offset the power of ranged attacks?
Bows have an interesting history in M59. In the early days of the game, you could not pick a specific target to attack. This meant you had to face the right direction to attack a specific monster. Ranged weapons were challenging, because you couldn’t be sure you were going to hit your preferred target if you were facing a bunch of targets grouped together at range. So, it took a fair amount of player skill to use ranged weapons without peppering friends and foes alike with arrows.
However, some players discovered how to cheat the game and make it attack a specific target through a flaw in the design of the client. The only reasonable option was to expand the client to give this power to everyone legitimately. However, in the process, ranged attacks became significantly overpowered since you could select a target and keep hitting it as long as it was within sight and within range. Many purists claim the game was better before targeting; some still ask for it to be removed from the game, even though this would just give cheaters another tool. Bows now come in different flavors, with more damaging bows having shorter ranges.
Ranged spells were rather restrictive. Many spells had very short ranges, and all spells required the use of reagents for every cast. So, fireballs and lightning bolts were very expensive to cast repeatedly. In addition, only one school had long distance spells; since most of M59′s gameplay revolved around the use of spells and most of them were close range, melee weapons were still an important part of the game for damaging people between casts of spells.
So, there is my evaluation of ranged attacks in three different games. What do you think? Do you think a game has handled the distinction perfectly? Or, do you have an idea to balance out the differences? Perhaps looking to pen-and-paper type games could provide some insight.